You know Guinness?" asks painter Hector Duarte, who plans to make the world's largest woodcut print this weekend with other members of the Pilsen artists' workshop Taller de Multimedia y Grafica. "We have to figure out if they've ever recorded any kind of reproduction bigger than this one. If we find out there's a larger one somewhere, we'll just make ours even bigger."
Originally the group planned to create a print the length of a city block, says Rene Arceo, the special projects director of the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum and an original Taller member. "But once we started seeing how much work it was going to require, we only made it 200 feet." Still, at 200 feet, they're pretty sure they've got the record wrapped up. The woodcut, titled Migration to Chicago, is composed of 25 four-by-eight-foot sheets of plywood. Shortly after cutting the block in 1994, Taller members won attention by setting up shop downtown on State Street. Using 50 pounds of ink and a three-ton steamroller borrowed from the city, they made a first print onto a special synthetic paper. "That was an artist's proof," says Duarte.
Now they say they're ready for the real thing--this time they'll make two prints in sepia on the streets of Pilsen. They hope to exhibit the gigantic prints in Chicago schools and other public places, "wherever there's enough space to show it," says Duarte.
The print's theme--expressed through Native American images, depictions of first Chicagoan Jean-Baptiste-Point Du Sable, flags and crests representing waves of immigrants, and the word "immigration" written in a dozen different languages--speaks poignantly to most Taller members, almost all of whom are immigrants, most from Mexico.
It also gets at a fundamental force behind the creation of the Taller. Founded six years ago as the Taller Mexicano de Grabado, or the Mexican Printmaking Workshop, it was designed to fill the needs of Latin American immigrant artists. "We knew there were workshops in other areas, but they were far from the barrio," says Duarte, who immigrated to Chicago from Mexico 11 years ago and has since worked on more than 35 murals throughout the city, including what he calls Chicago's "largest single-concept" mural, Loteria, at the Swap-O-Rama on 42nd and Ashland. "When [Latin American] artists come here to Chicago, their conception of reality changes. They're influenced by the culture here, but at the same time they begin to reevaluate in a very intense way their own attitudes and their own culture. And there is a need to express that through art." Located on Halsted near Cermak Road, the Taller is run as a cooperative and survives almost exclusively from monthly donations made by members, who changed the workshop's name last year in an effort to express their openness to non-Mexican artists and a willingness to foster art in media other than printmaking.
With the passage of Proposition 187 in California and the country's current anti-immigrant sentiment, "it's timely to do this project again," says Arceo. "We wanted to point out the fact that this country has been created and formed by immigrants from all over the world."
Members of the Taller along with youth from Pilsen and Little Village will be setting up shop on South Paulina between 18th Place and 19th Street this Saturday at 10 AM (Sunday if it rains). Call 312-455-1114 for info.